The Lost Boy

Those who loved Kelly Thomas could only watch his unstoppable slide into mental illness. Now, after the public tragedy of his death following a beating by Fullerton police, they’re ready to talk about the private tragedy that preceded it.

By Michael Goldstein

Ron Thomas likes things under control. At 55, the former Army Ranger and Orange County sheriff’s deputy credits his martial arts background for keeping him trim and fit. With a neatly clipped mustache and every hair in place, he maintains his military bearing despite a penchant for Hawaiian shirts.

His house in a pleasant Cypress subdivision is just as neat. Only the three dachshunds, rushing toward a visitor, are out of control. Thomas has been married twice, divorced twice, and now lives alone. “The pets last longer than my girlfriends,” he says, pointing to the dogs, and the cockatiels and finches of his bird collection. “I’m a nice guy, really.”

A nice guy with an iron will, says daughter Christina “Tina” Kinser. “He gets what he goes after.” That’s why her brother Kelly screamed “Dad!” over and over while being beaten last summer by Fullerton police, Tina says, because their father “always saved us.”

But there are a few things beyond Ron Thomas’ control. He could do nothing about the mental illness that gradually overtook his firstborn. He also can’t control how the public views his crusade to get help for the homeless and justice for Kelly, who died last July 10 after that tragic encounter with police officers at the Fullerton Transportation Center.  Ron would, however, like you to know one thing: “Kelly was never homeless. He always could come to my house, or [the homes of] our other family. He preferred to live outside.”

At the time of the beating, Kelly didn’t have a car, a credit card, driver’s license, ID, phone, or computer. Facebook? Tina says her brother had no idea what it was.

Suffering from multiple blunt-force injuries to his face, head, and chest, including a punctured lung, Kelly died five days later. Two Fullerton police officers indicted by the Orange County district attorney’s office face a preliminary hearing this month and three City Council members could face a recall vote as early as June. Public attention so far has focused on Ron’s campaign for accountability by the Police Department, as well as the launch of a charity, The Kelly Thomas Memorial Fund, dedicated to assisting the county’s homeless. But those who loved Kelly Thomas know the story of his life is no less a tragedy.


Kelly’s parents, Ron and Cathy, have lived in Orange County for most of their lives. They met on a blind date in high school. Ron went to Rancho Alamitos in Garden Grove; Cathy, Valencia High in Placentia. “We hit it off,” Cathy says. “I was 16 and he was 15. Got serious pretty fast.”

Cathy was pregnant with Kelly at 18. “It was shocking, but I was happy,” she says. “I felt really strong about having a baby.”

In 1973, they were married in an outdoor wedding in Garden Grove.

Focused on supporting his new family, and inspired by his father’s two decades of military service, Ron dropped out of school that year to join the Army, with Cathy serving as his guardian, granting him permission to enlist because he was only 17. The Army provided welcome discipline and motivation to the young husband and prospective father. “It’s where I got my drive,” he says.

Continue Reading @ Orange Coast Magazine


Ramos/Cicinelli Trial – Justice For Kelly Thomas

Wednesday, March 28, 2012
8:00am until 11:00am
Orange County Superior Court
700 Civic Center Drive West, Santa Ana, CA

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